32 of New Mexico’s fastest growing tech companies saw collective growth of 14% since the recession. That is according to the ‘The Flying 40’, a list that reports on New Mexico’s tech industry progress annually. But when it comes to tech companies in the southern part of the state few are even mentioned.
Brendan Sullivan and Oscar Torres are two New Mexico State University industrial engineering students with their own start up. The product they are developing removes salt and impurities from water Sullivan says at a much lower cost than any desalination product currently on the market.
“There is a lot of brackish water that is available at very shallow depths in the cost of drilling wells is very high so what we are doing is trying to develop a technology of the cost for people to have clean drinking water” he says.
Sullivan’s partner Oscar Torres says they want to solve water access issues for the region’s underserved and rural communities.
"The region that we live there is a lack of fresh water so that’s why this technology’s have a perfect fit” Torres says
Despite their enthusiasm both Torres and Sullivan say until they started working with the business incubator Arrowhead at NMSU they were completely unfamiliar with the world of start ups.
Its role is to help students make viable businesses out of technologies being developed at the university. Jason Koenig is Arrowhead’s Director of Entrepreneurship and Technology Commercialization.
”The old way was to invent a technology and push it out to the market and tell them they loved it we have switched that focus to what we call market pull lets design this in such a way that the market is demanding it from us because it serves the need or solves the problem they have” he says.
Richard Majestic got his start in audio engineering, he is the former President of the High Tech Consortium of Southern New Mexico.
He says the technologies students are developing in New Mexico State University’s engineering, agriculture and physics programs are as good anything being done at universities like MIT or Stanford. But he says NMSU’s transfer of technologies into the commercial market isn’t happening as fast as it should be.
"It has gone on 10 years I have only read about 3 or 4 things plant wise or tech wise or algae wise that have gotten moved forward to the point where people got hired and there was something developed out of it. The algae business that is over on the West Mesa that came from San Diego that didn’t come locally” Majestic says.
Majestic says NMSU and Arrowhead need to bring in more experienced business development experts. He says they could guide students with the know how and backing to build competitive high tech businesses. He says helping talented students develop businesses in the area is the best way to create jobs in Southern New Mexico.
“If you don’t commercialize it there is no reason to have you around here. All we are essentially doing at the university now is exporting brain power. We educate students we give them a very good education and it is a good university and they leave" he says.
Jason Koenig says Arrowhead already puts students through comprehensive entrepreneurial training programs. He says the lack of tech start-ups in the southern part of the state is due to a small and spread out population. He says securing the sufficient investment needed to develop and manufacture products is much more straight forward in cities with larger industry and more established start up cultures like Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Los Alamos.
“We believe to develop a strong robust and to have some start ups succeed we need a bigger community we need mentors and people that you can go to talk to and kind of share in that experience because it takes a long time" he says.
Brendan Sullivan says lack of funding sources in the southern part of the state has left he and Torres at a fundamental disadvantage. Even with Arrowhead’s guidance they have failed to secure the funding they need for large-scale development of their water desalination product. Still Sullivan says they are not moving their project anywhere.
“New Mexico is where we want to make a difference so while I can understand a lot of people being drawn to populated areas for us personally Las Cruces the southwest is and will remain” he says
Though Sullivan and Torres both have more than a year of their studies to go, they say Arrowhead’s involvement in their business will be ongoing. The two are hoping that the humanitarian function of their water desalination product makes it an ideal candidate for funding from nonprofits, charities and federal grants.